If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: Australia should stay away from electronic voting


Tom Sear, UNSW

Russia was behind an enormous effort to influence politics in the US and the UK, but was Australia targeted too? In this series, Hacking #auspol, we explore how covert foreign influence operates in Australia, and what we can do about it.


The civic experience of interacting with analogue voting interfaces is as Australian as the democracy sausage. Voters are confronted with tiny pencils, plus physical security measures that involve huddling in a cardboard booth and origami-scale folding.

The use of paper ballots – and human counting of those ballots – creates one of the most secure electoral systems imaginable.

And the Australian tradition provides another sometimes under-recognised component of electoral security: compulsory voting. This practice secures against the voter suppression tactics used to undermine elections in the United States.

In the digital era, smartphones are so prevalent that it might seem tempting to move to voting online. In 2013 the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) explored internet voting. But cyber security experts say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.




Read more:
Election explainer: why can’t Australians vote online?


US system an example of what not to do

The problems the US has had with electronic voting provide a perfect illustration of what can go wrong.

Every year hackers and cyber security experts from across the globe converge “In Real Life” (IRL) on Las Vegas to attend one of the world’s largest and longest-running annual hacker conventions: DefCon.

Election hacking has recently gained prominence at DefCon. In 2017 the “Voting Machine Hacking Village” area revealed the cyber vulnerabilities of US election equipment, databases and infrastructure. One participant even “RickRolled” a machine by replacing the voter profile with Rick Astley playing his song “Never Gonna Give You Up”.

The DefCon Voting Village showcased electoral system vulnerabilities again this year, as Young DefCon attendees aged 8-16 competed for prize money to hack into replicas of election results websites to manipulate vote tallies. It took an 11-year-old just 10 minutes to hack into one of the systems.




Read more:
Lessons in trust from America’s experience with electronic voting


Recent announcements from the White House indicate that cyber-vulnerable elections are more than child’s play. Earlier this month the Trump administration outlined approaches to bolster defence against cyber operations targeting elections.

Where Australia stands on e-voting

After the 2016 federal election, the leaders of both major parties raised the possibility of introducing electronic voting at future Australian elections.

Electronic voting is a broad church. Since 2001, the ACT has operated locally networked computers in some locations, and 283,669 voters have used the iVote system in NSW elections.

As early as 2007, the AEC piloted electronically assisted voting to enable access for visually impaired voters. It also trialled voting across a secure network for Australian Defence Force personnel serving overseas.

At the 2013 federal election, the AEC piloted the use of electronically certified lists (ECLs). This technology enables voters to be marked more quickly off voting rolls, thus avoiding the queues caused by that nice person with a pencil and ruler who looks quizzically at your driving licence.

Electronic scanning and counting of ballot papers was introduced in the 2016 federal election, but subsequently became subject to an inquiry.

In cybersecurity, we are fond of pointing out that no digital system is ever truly secure. Moving to comprehensive, end-to-end, online voting should never take place. The risks of disruption to online voting are, and will remain, simply too high.

Vulnerabilities beyond e-voting

Of course there are other vulnerabilities in the Australian electoral system – dependencies in any system lead to vulnerabilities. External dependencies management is essential for security in elections. For governments, such dependencies include the use of private contractors.

In January, the Australian National Audit Office found that transport suppliers and contractors delivering a new Senate ballot scanning system could not meet security requirements. The Australian Signals Directorate warned the AEC that IT security problems could not be resolved in time for election day. Shortly thereafter, the Council of Australian Governments ordered “health checks” of electoral systems.

In June, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters found that the AEC needed to update its IT infrastructure to support its core election and voter roll management systems.

Foreign adversaries have been accused of attempting to compromise electoral roll systems in the 2016 US election. In response to this threat the Australian government has provided grants to political parties to seek compliance against the top four basic cyber security measures.

Disinformation is a bigger threat

Such initiatives are welcome. But it is unlikely that large parties would be the target of a genuinely subversive measure designed to create disruption.

There are a few options for an adversary seeking to “hack” an election. The first is to “go loud” and undermine the public’s belief in the players, the process, or the outcome itself. This might involve stealing information from a major party, for example, and then anonymously leaking it. Or it might mean, rather than attacking voting machines themselves, attacking and changing the data held by the AEC. This would force the agency to publicly admit a concern, which in turn would undermine confidence in the system.




Read more:
Russian trolls targeted Australian voters on Twitter via #auspol and #MH17


In Australia, this approach would not ultimately affect the actual result due to the security of our physical system. Such an obvious breach might be a prize for an adversary, but its actual effect on a nation with compulsory voting would be short-lived.

The real risk to any election is the manipulation of social media, and a more successful and secretive campaign to alter the outcome of the Australian election might focus on a minor party.

An adversary could steal the membership database and electoral roll of a party with poor security, locate the social media accounts of those people, and then slowly use social media manipulations to influence an active, vocal group of voters.

Securing the elections of the future

In June, ahead of the July 28 by-elections, the government set up an Electoral Task Force composed of Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Federal Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and Australian Cyber Security Centre, to guard against foreign interference in future elections.

In an era when foreign influence via social media is likely, this task force should be invested with sufficient powers to analyse social media and compel social media companies to take down foreign adversarial accounts in real time.

Such an approach might feasibly be taken through existing frameworks – too much coordination between the government and social networks could be incompatible with a free and open public sphere. But faced by a challenge with few clear solutions, every available option should be considered.

Meanwhile, calls for, and the development of, digital voting solutions are not going away.

Australian start-up Horizon State has used blockchain technology to create verified, secure voting systems. Horizon State will deploy the system in Sumatra, hoping scale up for future Indonesian elections.




Read more:
Africa leads the way in election technology, but there’s a long way to go


Not everyone is certain that blockchain will provide an ideal solution. Such approaches are good for developing democracies, where human corruption in officialdom is the major security risk to elections. But in a mature democracy like Australia, sometimes the tried and true traditions are the best defence.

During the Australian 2016 federal election, Twitter added a sausage on bread emoji to the hashtag #ausvotes. This is one election “hack” we can be happy to celebrate. But hey, just don’t use a knife and fork, alright?The Conversation

Tom Sear, PhD Candidate, UNSW Canberra Cyber, Australian Defence Force Academy, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Liberal MP Julia Banks to quit at election, calling out bullying



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Julia Banks’ seat of Chisholm is on a margin of less than 3% after the distribution.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Julia Banks, the Liberal member for the highly marginal Melbourne seat of Chisholm, has announced she will quit at the election, calling out bullying within the party and saying her constituents backed Malcolm Turnbull.

The blow comes as an early poll, reported in the Daily Telegraph, in former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth, from which he will resign on Friday, shows it could be vulnerable to a strong independent.

Chisholm is on a margin of about 3% after the redistribution.

Banks’ announcement is another indication that the disruption and bad feelings caused by the ousting of Turnbull continue to wrack the Liberal party.

The bailing out of a woman member will also add to the perception the Liberals have a serious “woman problem”, with a much lower proportion of female MPs than Labor has.

Banks, who entered parliament in 2016, says she has received hundreds of emails and calls from constituents.

“Their voice has been very clear. They wanted Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership as Prime Minister to continue. They wanted Julie Bishop to remain as our Deputy Leader and Foreign Minister. So did I”, she said in a statement on Wednesday.

“I have always listened to the people who elected me and put Australia’s national interest before internal political games, factional party figures, self-proclaimed power-brokers and certain media personalities who bear vindictive, mean-spirited grudges intent on settling their personal scores. Last week’s events were the last straw”.

She said her constituents knew she would always call out bad behaviour and wouldn’t tolerate bullying or intimidation. “I have experienced this both from within my own party and from the Labor Party”. The latter reference was to Labor pursuing her over whether she was entitled to Greek citizenship.

Several Liberal women complained last week of bullying during the leadership battle.

Western Australian Liberal senator Linda Reynolds denounced the internal tactics in a speech to the Senate. “I do not recognise the bullying and intimidation that has gone on,” she said on Thursday.

Banks said she would always stand up for equality regardless of people’s heritage, gender or sexuality.

“The scourge of cultural and gender bias, bullying and intimidation continues against women in politics, the media, and across businesses.

“In anticipating my critics saying I’m ‘playing the gender card’ – I say this. Women have suffered in silence for too long and in this last twelve months the world has seen many courageous women speak out. To young women and men reading this announcement – I say I’ve only ever aspired to inspire. If I’ve inspired any one of you to have leadership courage – that will sustain me”.

UPDATE: Morrison says he is giving Banks “comfort”

In the wake of Banks’ bullying allegation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared he was giving her “every comfort”, while Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said that in politics “people do speak strongly”.

Morrison said he had discussed the Banks matter with the Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer.

O’Dwyer said in a statement that bullying anywhere was “totally unacceptable”.

Morrison, campaigning in Sydney’s west, told a news conference: “What is important right now is Julia’s welfare. I know she is going to take a bit of time out between now and when parliament comes back. My first concern is for her welfare and wellbeing.

“What am I doing right now? I’m supporting Julia and reaching out to Julia and giving her every comfort and support for what has been a pretty torrid ordeal for her.

“I will continue to consult with my colleagues about ensuring that there can be no question about the culture of the Liberal party. There should not be
and certainly under my authority there would have been absolutely nothing of that sort taking place.”

O’Dwyer said that Banks, in a neighbouring seat to hers, was “a terrific member of the Liberal team and a good friend.

“I deeply regret the decision that Julia has made today to not recontest the seat of Chisholm and the circumstances that have led to her decision to leave politics,” O’Dwyer said. “Bullying in any workplace, whether on the shopfloor, or in our nation’s Parliament, is totally unacceptable”.

Kroger said he was “not quite sure who” Banks was referring to in her allegation of bullying. “We haven’t received any complaints ourselves down here in the Victorian division about any behaviour that would concern us,” he told Sky.

“I’ve spoken to a number of people since the ballot. None of them have said they were bullied or intimidated. This is politics. People do speak strongly to one another.”

On the matter of preselection threats, Kroger said “No one could’ve been threatened because we’ve endorsed everybody [in the lower house]. I’m not sure who it is, probably not a Victorian.”

But the Victorian party still has Senate preselections outstanding, and there has been speculation over efforts to have senator Jane Hume dropped down the ticket.

Outspoken Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly said Banks had done the wrong thing. “You’ve got to roll with the punches in this game.”

Malcolm Turnbull in a letter sent to his Wentworth constituents has referred to “recent shocking and shameful events – a malevolent and pointless week of madness that disgraced our parliament and appalled our nation.”

Turnbull said: “I have always said that the best place for former PMs is out of the Parliament, and recent events amply demonstrate why”.

Crossbencher Cathy McGowan, independent member for Indi, and Morrison spoke on Wednesday about her position while the Wentworth byelection is on.

She said any motion of “no confidence” moved in parliament would not have her support during the byelection. The government has lost its one-member margin in the House because it does not get a “pair” from Labor to offset the loss of a number with the departure of Turnbull.

McGowan later said good governance and stability was vital following the disruption of the past fortnight.“Now is not the time for further disruption,” she said in a statement. “When the new member for Wentworth is elected to the parliament I will sit down with Prime Minister Morrison again and we will resume our conversation.

“As is my practice, I will continue to look at every piece of legislation on its merits and vote accordingly,” she said.

“I am grateful to all the people who have contacted my office and offered comments. I welcome other constituents who want to share their thoughts,” she said.

Meanwhile on another front, Tony Abbott has accepted Morrison’s offer that he become special envoy on Indigenous affairs. He said he would focus on getting school attendances up.

“I suppose the thing that I would do is bring the authority of a former prime minister to the task. If you’ve done the top job you can bring a lot of horse power to any other job,” he told 2GB.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As Pakistan’s PM, Imran Khan must embrace compromise. Can he deliver on his promises?


Samina Yasmeen, University of Western Australia

Once a global cricket star, Imran Khan is now poised to become Pakistan’s new prime minister. But he’s likely to find that running a country is much more difficult than winning the vote; the July election that brought him to power has also left his party short of a clear parliamentary majority.

Forced to form a coalition in parliament, Khan will have to compromise if he’s to have any hope of tackling key issues in Pakistan – myriad economic, environmental, foreign policy and social welfare challenges – while trying to deliver on his vision for “naya Pakistan” (new Pakistan).




Read more:
Imran Khan hopes to transform Pakistan but he’ll have far less power than past leaders


Rise to power

Khan formed his political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in 1996 and persevered for years to muster support for his vision for “naya Pakistan”. His electoral success is also partly explained by his popularity as the cricket captain who won the World Cup for Pakistan in 1992.

In a country that feverishly loves cricket, Khan creatively used “cricket-speak” in his campaigning and employed a cricket bat as his electoral symbol. But his success has predominantly resulted from pre-polling orchestration and support from the military, which provided him space for electioneering while denying similar opportunities for other contestants. In other words, he has learnt the art of politics.

Khan’s chief rival was the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose administration was toppled over corruption allegations. When the nation’s top court declared him ineligible to hold public office – a move Sharif decried as “judicial martial law” – his party was left weakened. Khan’s party, the PTI, reaped the benefits.

Khan used the cricket bat symbol in his election material.
Aine Moorad / Shutterstock.com

Following the July vote, the PTI secured 116 of the 270 seats contested in the National Assembly, with rival parties PML-N and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) securing only 64 and 43 seats, respectively.

Falling short of a clear majority, Khan’s PTI party has opted for coalition politics. It has joined forces with independently elected representatives and a wide variety of political parties, including the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP).

The coalition is also poised to form three of the four provincial governments: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Balochistan and Punjab. Of these, Punjab is the jewel in the crown, with half of the country’s 208 million people, and where the PML-N has lost its traditional power base to the PTI. But ensuring the sustainability of coalition government at provincial level remains a challenge, especially as local tensions intersect with the eternal strain between central and regional governments.

The coalition is also poised to form three of the four provincial governments: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Balochistan and Punjab.
Shutterstock

Foriegn policy woes and domestic tensions

In the foreign policy arena, Pakistan faces mounting US pressure and has been placed on the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body aimed at combating money laundering and terrorist financing.

The military has increasingly sought to control Pakistan’s foreign policy, especially its relationships with India, Afghanistan, the US, Iran and the Gulf States. We shouldn’t expect huge change on that front. Judging by the PTI manifesto and Khan’s first post-election address, the new government will continue to operate within the parameters established by the military.

Khan’s PTI party faces domestic economic woes, too. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled from US$17.5 billion in April to US$9.66 billion in June. Economic growth has slowed, the rupee has been devalued and Pakistan is seeking a US$12 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.

https://d3fy651gv2fhd3.cloudfront.net/embed/?s=pakistanforexcres&v=201806291527v&d1=20170101&d2=20181231&h=300&w=600

Can Khan deliver?

Khan acknowledges these challenges, and has proffered solutions. He’s talked about learning from China the art of rapidly lifting people out of poverty and promised to cut government spending.

But the capacity of the government to deliver on these promises cannot be guaranteed. Traditionally, Pakistan’s regional and national leaders have used their local influence to sustain their respective power bases at the cost of ordinary citizens. Khan’s PTI party has engaged a number of these “electables” for its electoral success, but such people are unlikely to embrace change beyond a certain level.

The biggest challenge remains the tide of rising expectations in Pakistan. Khan says his vision of “naya Pakistan” means combating corruption and nepotism, promoting merit-based decisions at all levels, increasing accountability and boosting access to education and health services.

Such aspirations are noble, but he will need more than five years to achieve all this in a country in which the powerful are privileged and the powerless usually ignored.

This is not to suggest that nothing can or will change in Pakistan.

But change may be so slow that young people (who make up 64% of the population) could grow increasingly disillusioned.

Pakistan’s political history may repeat itself. Former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (who was also the father of another Pakistani leader, Benazir Bhutto) similarly heightened expectations among the poor in the 1960s with a suite of promises. His inability to deliver on them pushed the country towards 11 years of military rule.




Read more:
Imran Khan’s battles have only just begun, after Pakistan’s ‘dirtiest election’


The growing power of Pakistan’s religious groups is an even bigger challenge. Traditional Islamist parties have not fared well in the elections. But one such party, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), secured 2.2 million votes, in contrast to the 6.8 million votes for the left-leaning Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal.

If PTI fails to deliver on Khan’s promise of a “new Pakistan”, the TLP or other militant outfits could entice more young people to join their cause.

The ConversationAfter the celebrations for Khan’s victory are over, we must be realistic about the likelihood for rapid change in Pakistan.

Samina Yasmeen, Director of Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Erdogan’s victory will have far-reaching implications for Turkey and the Middle East



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Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets supporters after winning with 52% of the vote in the Turkish election.
AAP/Turkish president press office handout

Mehmet Ozalp, Charles Sturt University

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the incumbent president and main political actor in Turkish politics for the last 16 years, has won yet another election with a majority vote of 52%.

The election was held in the climate of a two-year state of emergency, Erdogan’s considerable weight on Turkish media, and his ruling party’s dominance of the election process. This was no ordinary election and will have historic ramifications for Turkey, its relations with the West and the Middle East.

The election has put in effect the terms of 2016 constitutional changes and ended the fragile Turkish parliamentary democracy that has been in place since 1950. As of June 24, Turkey has ventured into a democratic league of its own.

In the new executive presidential regime, there will be elections and multiple political parties. Once elected, though, the system unifies powers in one person, the president, rather than enforcing the all-important principle of separation of powers in a liberal democracy.




Read more:
Stakes are high as Turkey, Russia and the US tussle over the future of Syria


Erdogan will form the government by appointing ministers from inside or outside the parliament. His presidential decrees will be equal to legislation. As the leader of the ruling AKP party, he will hold the majority vote in the parliament – in effect, he will control the legislative branch.

Erdogan will appoint half of the top council, which appoints judges and prosecutors. The other half will be appointed by the parliament he controls. He will have sweeping powers to abolish the parliament and declare a state of emergency any time.

The new constitution stipulates two five-year terms. If an early election is called during the second term, the incumbent president can be nominated for a third term. This means Erdogan could possibly be in power until 2034.

Erdogan wins elections with an Islamo-nationalistic populism that is a cross between Trump and Putin. Like Trump, he promises to make Turkey great again as a global economic and political power, reviving the past glories of the Ottoman Empire.

Similar to Putin, Erdogan follows a confrontational approach in foreign policy, takes bold military steps in Syria and rallying the population behind him in a nationalistic fervour.

The key lies in Erdogan’s almost absolute control of the Turkish media. This not only raises questions about the fairness of elections in Turkey, but also explains the diffusion of a powerful narrative behind Erdogan’s political success.

The formula is simple: undertake large-scale road, bridge and airport building projects and launch them with media fanfare. This makes even the reluctant supporters say about the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), “they are corrupt, but they also work”.

Secondly, anything that goes wrong in Turkey is explained as a Western conspiracy. If rating agencies drop Turkey’s credit rating, it is not because of poor economic and political policies controlled by Erdogan for the last 16 years. Rather, it is explained as Western subversion to undermine the Turkish economic success.

A case in point in illustrating the appeal of the Erdogan narrative is the Dirilis (Revival), a state-funded television series that narrates the foundational story of the Ottoman Empire in the 13th century.

The hero of the series, Ertugrul Bey, father of the founder Osman Bey, often clashes and wins against Byzantine and Crusader forces who are determined to pillage Muslim land and kill innocent Muslim populations. It is the Muslim version of Games of Thrones, watched by millions around the world.

Many see Erdogan as the modern-day personification of Ertugrul Bey, fighting imperialistic forces against all odds to revive Islamic civilisation and become a voice for oppressed Muslims around the world.

His supporters are convinced Erdogan is the greatest leader in Turkish history, one who would make Turkey a world power and bring back pride for Turks and all Muslims. The narrative is intoxicatingly attractive to traditionally religious Turks and masses of Muslims around the world.

This sets the scene for what to expect in Turkey-West relations. The West, the European Union and the US are the antagonists in Erdogan’s narrative, and will continue to be so. He is not likely to mend relations with the EU, let alone make the necessary reforms to gain EU membership.

Aiming to have a growing influence in the Middle East, Erdogan will intensify his relationship with Russia over Syria. Putin will use Turkey to undermine the NATO alliance. This will further stretch EU-Turkey relations, which are already in tatters over the purchase of Russian S-400 missiles.




Read more:
Syria, Russia and Turkey – the uneasy alliance reshaping world politics


Erdogan’s dilemma is that the EU is Turkey’s largest economic partner and he needs funding from Western banks to service Turkey’s growing USD$450 billion foreign debt. This is increasingly worrying Turkish businesses.

During his election campaign, Erdogan travelled to the US and UK to convince lenders and business investors to continue to fund the Turkish government and economy. Erdogan is likely to play out a love-hate relationship with the West.

While Erdogan has no qualms about resorting to anti-Western rhetoric, his supporters forget that it was the same West that hailed Turkey under Erdogan’s leadership as a new hope in the post-9/11 world. Turkey was portrayed as a leader and a model for the Muslim world, where Islam and liberal democracy could harmoniously co-exist.

Turkey could show the world it was possible to stay true to Islamic values and identity while being a first-grade democracy with freedoms and affluence. Other Middle Eastern countries would follow the Turkish success, rising above the seemingly perpetual political turmoil, social discord, economic ruin and inevitable suffering of ordinary Muslim people.

The ConversationBut, 16 years on, Turkey has become just another typical Middle Eastern country.

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Malaysians celebrate the return of Mahathir and hope for a brighter future



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Mahathir Mohamad has said many times that he will hand over power to former enemy Anwar Ibrahim, if the latter can secure a royal pardon.
AAP/CrowdSpark/Aizat Ady Ikram Abdull Ropha

James Chin, University of Tasmania

When Malaysians woke up on May 10, the world looked and felt different. For the first time in years, many Malaysians feel a sense of optimism that was missing in their lives. For the past six decades, Malaysians have been living under the rule of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

UMNO had won every election since 1955. In the May 9 general elections, Najib Razak, UMNO’s leader and prime minister, was not only confident, he was telling close aides that he was aiming for two-thirds of the seats in the 222-seat parliament. By the time the final vote was counted, UMNO had only 79 seats and lost power.




Read more:
Mahathir Mohamad crops up again in bid to lead Malaysia – with Anwar on the same side


What happened? This will be the question preoccupying political scientists for years to come.

Suffice to say, Najib lost due to three main reasons.

First, his personal brand had become synonymous with kleptocracy. He was alleged to have received close to US$1 billion from a Malaysian sovereign fund via complex international transactions. It did not help that Najib’s wife, Rosman Mansor, was widely regarded as a spendthrift with a passion for diamonds and designer bags.

Second, Dr Mahathir Mohamad was no ordinary opponent. Mahathir was Malaysia’s longest-serving prime minister, from 1981 to 2003, and had come out of retirement to fight Najib.

Third, and perhaps most important, UMNO was simply seen as an organisation for political patronage, and a purveyor of racism and crony capitalism. It was no longer seen as a Malay nationalist party. In the past few decades, UMNO has been regarded as vehicle for making big money, government corruption and spreading hate towards the Chinese community in Malaysia.

The rural Malays, the mainstay of UMNO political power, could not stomach Najib’s toxic reputation as “Mr Kleptocrat”. They could see that under continued UMNO rule, their lives would be economically ruined. The GST brought in by the Najib administration was the last straw. Prices of basic necessities went up across the board despite Najib’s insistence that the GST would bring down prices.

There is tremendous goodwill towards Mahathir. Yes, he was dictatorial when he was prime minister the first time around. But most Malaysians I spoke to say this time it will be different. Mahathir is 92, and it is obvious he is a transitional leader.

He has said many times that once his jailed former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, can get a royal pardon and a seat in parliament, he will hand over power to Anwar. Many Malaysians believe he will keep his word: after all, he cannot be going for re-election when he is 98.

Mahathir will also be constrained by the opposition’s organisational structure. His party, Pribumi Bersatu, has the third-smallest number of MPs of the four parties in Pakatan Harapan (PH) (Alliance of Hope). He is not in a position to bully.

Finally, what will happen to Najib Razak? Will he go to jail for 1MDB and the missing billions? In the short term, the answer is “no”. The new government will not immediately arrest Najib, or his wife. It will instead likely establish a committee to look into the 1MDB affair and get a definitive answer as to where the US$5billion disappeared to.




Read more:
Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie most vulnerable at byelections forced by dual citizenship saga


If the investigation panel shows Najib is behind the scam, then, yes, Najib will probably end up in jail. But this is a long process. It is more likely that any prosecution against Najib will start outside Malaysia.

Several governments, notably the US, are interested in sorting out the 1MBD issue. Thus far they could not complete their investigations because Najib used his position to stop Malaysian institutions from cooperating with the US Department of Justice probe into 1MDB.

The ConversationThere is a potential new angle to 1MDB, which is related to Australia. The bank account Najib used to launder 1MDB’s money is actually part-owned by ANZ Australia. Many believe some of the money from 1MDB passed through the Australian financial system.

James Chin, Director, Asia Institute Tasmania, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

For Timor-Leste, another election and hopes for an end to crippling deadlock


Jerry Courvisanos, Federation University Australia

For the last year, the people of Timor-Leste have expected – and received – little from their government except deadlock.

From a political standpoint, there’s been gridlock for nearly a year after the Fretilin party eked out a victory in parliamentary elections last July, kicking independence hero Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party out of power for the first time in a decade.

However, Fretilin’s minority government found itself blocked at every turn by CNRT and its allies. It finally collapsed in December, forcing the beleaguered president to call for new elections, to be held on Saturday.

At the same time, there’s been economic deadlock, as well. The vast riches of the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea have been locked away due to Timor-Leste’s seemingly intractable negotiations with the Australian government over a disputed maritime boundary.




Read more:
Australia should help East Timor feed itself


In March, a boundary treaty was finally signed between the countries, which could lead to billions in royalties for Timor-Leste. But disagreements remain on how to develop the untapped Greater Sunrise basin that lies across this boundary.

In the past, Timor-Leste governments have focused on a “big development” economic strategy to exploit the country’s limited fossil fuels, which José Ramos Horta, the Noble Peace Prize laureate and former president and prime minister, has called “an absolute necessity for the future well-being of this country”.

The recent political impasse has put serious discussions about the future of the country on hold. For starters, the tenor in the run-up to the election has been acrimonious and personal, with the leaders of each party trading insults and playing up their contributions to the war of independence against Indonesia instead of debating policy.

Candidates have focused their campaigns on voting for the best “fatherly” figure of the revolution, with little regard for the country’s youth, who suffer from high unemployment rates and have largely been marginalised from the political process.

The economic development of the country, meanwhile, has been left out of the debate. The candidates all stress the need for “big resource development” and the need to build massively expensive gas processing infrastructure on the south coast of the country. But what’s lacking is any indication of whether gas can (or will) be developed in the long term by any multinational gas producer.

Also lacking is any real discussion about the future of the economy and how best to wean the country off its reliance on fossil fuels to drive economic growth. This has long been seen as a risky and unsustainable strategy.

Based on my own research in the country, as well as the work of other academics and development experts, the new Timor-Leste government will need to take a different strategy more in line with the [United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals], encouraging private investment and developing non-oil exports in agriculture, community forestry and coffee exports. Timor-Leste has committed itself to these SDGs, even if it is struggling to meet them.




Read more:
From violent occupation to adventure vacation – can tourism work in Timor?


According to tradition, a sacred house in Timor-Leste is formed by four pillars. If two of those pillars are in a sloping position or broken, it will impact the house as a whole. When that happens, the elders will ask the young people to find new pillars to replace the ones that are damaged.

Timor-Leste now finds itself with two broken pillars – the leadership of the country and the dysfunctional parliament. The situation requires the attention of all Timorese to help fix the broken pillars and right the country.

The big question is whether the politicians who are elected on Saturday will listen to the people and bring an end to the deadlock holding the country back.

The ConversationI would like to acknowledge the contribution made to my article by Victor Soares, Lecturer in Public Policy, Universidade Nacional Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL), Dili

Jerry Courvisanos, Associate Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Federation University Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Budget 2018: space agency details still scant – but GPS and satellite imagery funded


Anthony Wicht, University of Sydney

The Federal Government has announced $41 million of funding to kickstart the Australian space sector over the next four years.

The $41 million of funding is allocated across:

  • establishing the national space agency ($26 million over four years – $5.7 million in 2018/19, $9.8 million in 2019/20, $11.8 million in 2020/21 and $13.7 million in 2021/22)

  • international space investment ($15 million for grants over three years).

As expected, the funding establishes a national space agency, and ex-CSIRO head Dr Megan Clark is tipped to serve as the inaugural head.




Read more:
Infographic: Budget 2018 at a glance


The surprise in the budget is the around $260 million investment in applying satellite data to Australia – mostly in precise positioning but also in satellite imagery.

The applications of space technology cover:

  • $225 million for precise positioning technology that makes GPS signals accurate to centimetres, not metres, which unlocks efficiency and automation possibilities in agriculture, mining and transport

  • $36.9 million to improve “Digital Earth Australia”, a platform that assembles global satellite images of Australia in a user-friendly and publicly accessible way.

End to ambivalence

This budget marks the first time Australia has had an official space agency, and puts an end to decades of Australian ambivalence towards civilian space.


Timeline of key events in Australia’s space activities from 1957-2018: click on arrows at right and left to go back and forth.

https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1XyVlDLjkmySON9coL-C6aQawqPOUakVkFDWwcgpPwzs&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650

Adapted with permission from Kerrie Dougherty – this timeline first appeared in her review of Australia’s space activities in 2017.


The emphasis on industry shows the agency’s mission is to enable the growing Australian space sector to strut its stuff on a global stage.

The space industry is worth more than A$400 billion per year, and plays an increasingly vital link in civil and military activity.

The government’s concept of a space agency is as an economic and national security play – it is not aimed as a catch-up attempt to lavishly funded international peers like NASA.

With this budget, the government is trying to walk a fine line between enabling successful Australian businesses in the high-tech space game, and creating a sector dependent on government largesse.




Read more:
Space Agency for Australia: here’s why it’s important


Four key aims of the space agency

The $41 million over four years is about the minimum viable amount to start towards these goals. Sensibly spent, it is enough to achieve the core aims of an Australian agency.

International credibility for Australian space: Australian space businesses bidding for international work dread the question “why doesn’t Australia have an agency?” as it’s often the prelude to “without an agency it’s just too risky for us to work together”. A funded agency takes this objection off the table and levels the playing field.

Support for Australian business: Early-stage grants to help businesses prove concepts – for example, to build a launch-ready small satellite – are within the means of this budget. This will help Australian startups cross the “valley of death” from concept to export-ready, space-tested hardware.

Federal and international coordination: A mix of state and federal agencies have a hand in civilian space activities; a funded agency will help impose order domestically and serve as a focal point for international engagement with other space agencies.

Long term strategic planning for the sector: Space is a long lead-time business. The agency will be responsible for strategic planning for the sector. The money will give its plans clout and an ability to nudge startups and universities into growth areas through funding allocations.

This is not the sort of funding for an agency that will be hiring engineers and building its own spacecraft. Most of the money will be spent in partnerships with commercial companies and universities to help get new ideas and good companies off the ground.

Some will be spent with international agencies to give Australia a “seat at the table” and a chance to bid for international contracts. These partnerships are the likely role of the $15 million earmarked for space investment.

The budget is light on detail and there are many unanswered questions, including:

  • what areas will Australia focus on?

  • where will key parts of the agency be located?

  • what will the future of the agency look like after the four years?

The ConversationI look forward to seeing these details in the near future.

Anthony Wicht, Alliance 21 Fellow (Space) at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Federal Budget 2018: a state-by-state spending analysis



File 20180504 153914 539cxc.png?ixlib=rb 1.1

Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Chris Salisbury, The University of Queensland; Anika Gauja, University of Sydney; David Hayward, RMIT University; Ian Cook, Murdoch University; Maria Yanotti, University of Tasmania; Rob Manwaring, Flinders University, and Rolf Gerritsen, Charles Darwin University

New South Wales and ACT

Anika Gauja, Associate Professor, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

With income tax cuts and a return to surplus earlier than expected, Treasurer Scott Morrison has certainly delivered a budget full of pre-election sweeteners. New South Wales itself isn’t a big winner, however, with only A$1.5 billion of the A$24 billion earmarked for infrastructure projects heading its way.

The projects that have been announced are strategically targeted: A$400 million will be spent on upgrading the Port Botany rail link, and A$50 million will go towards investigating the business case for the proposed Badgery’s Creek airport rail. The Pacific Highway will be upgraded with a new A$1 billion bypass at Coffs Harbour, bringing a windfall to the Nationals-held seat of Cowper. Scott Morrison’s own electorate will get A$25 million for a new monument commemorating the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s landing.

The “election budget” takes on even more significance in NSW, where voters will most likely go to the polls twice in the coming 12 months, with the next state election due in March 2019. By allocating only a modest proportion of infrastructure funding to NSW, the federal Coalition has made it hard for its NSW counterpart to capitalise on spending announcements during the state campaign.

If the state election is held before the next federal election, this might indicate confidence that Gladys Berejiklian’s government will be returned. Yet it might also signal a strategic focus away from NSW, where the state election could act as a buffer to absorb some of the disaffection that might otherwise be directed at the federal government.


Victoria

David Hayward, Professor of Public Policy and Director, VCOSS-RMIT Future Social Service Institute, RMIT University

Victoria is one of the big winners from the budget, through a mixture of luck and good political management.

First the luck. Mainly due to higher-than-expected population growth, Victoria will receive a bigger share of the national Goods and Services Tax pool, with revenue growing by a whopping A$1.4 billion, or almost 10% to A$17.3 billion. For the first time, Victoria’s share of GST revenues will be almost the same as its share of Australia’s population.

Also growing rapidly is the state’s share of federal infrastructure spending, which is tipped to rise from barely 8% to 15%. This is where the good political management part comes in. Over the last three years, Premier Daniel Andrews and Treasurer Tim Pallas have hit the airwaves to great effect, complaining bitterly about the state’s low levels of infrastructure investment under the Turnbull government.

With an election only six months away, the federal government has finally responded with a cool A$7.6 billion in total. Most of that investment will flow into a Melbourne Airport rail link (A$5 billion), a North East toll road that is yet to gain the support of the opposition (A$1.75 billion), and a rail link to Monash University’s Clayton Campus (A$500 million).

Much of this money won’t be seen for many years, with the spend next year being just A$900 million. The airport rail link is unlikely to start being built until 2026. There will also be some wrangling well before then, with the federal government determined to “equity” fund and the Victorian government looking for good old-fashioned capital grants.

Overall, though, this is a good-news budget for Victorians and the Victorian government. Just don’t expect opposition leader Matthew Guy to be smiling.


Western Australia

Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Murdoch University

Today the budget confirmed that the West Australian government would get another A$2.8 billion to spend on transport infrastructure, and A$189 million to spend on hospitals. Low- to middle-income earners in WA, like everyone else in the country, can now expect around A$500 back by way of an increased tax rebate. West Australians were told last week that they would get around A$1 billion more through a revised GST carve-up.

The crucial question now is whether Western Australians will see the federal government’s budget and the GST boost as a visit from Santa or Scrooge.

They had been wondering where the money would come from to pay for infrastructure projects, especially Perth’s Metronet, promised by State Labor during the last election campaign. Now they know. Well, most of it. A couple of billion dollars more will be needed to fund the projects.

Western Australians were expecting 45 cents back for every dollar in GST raised in the state (up from 34c) and they were told they would in fact get 47c. But Victorians will get A$1.8 billion more in funding, and 98c in the dollar back from their GST.

Many people in the West will be wondering whether another A$10 a week in their pocket is all that much, especially given Perth’s notorious coffee prices.

In a pre-election budget, and in a state in which the Liberal vote is falling, the Santa or Scrooge question is important – and the answer is still not really clear.


Queensland

Chris Salisbury, Research Associate, University of Queensland

As expected, Scott Morrison’s third federal budget is big on pleasure and light on pain for Queenslanders. With a federal election due within a year, and given Queensland’s status as a battleground state, the temptation to splash the cash in the Sunshine State is strong.

Committing almost A$536 million (A$478 million of it new) over five years to improve the health of the Great Barrier Reef has been welcomed widely, although criticised in some conservation circles for supporting programs that don’t directly address the impacts of climate change.

The biggest smiles are reserved for proponents of infrastructure spending, especially to relieve commuter congestion, with A$5.2 billion newly earmarked for projects in Queensland.

This includes a A$1 billion boost for expanding the M1 motorway between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, A$170 million for the Amberley interchange section of the Cunningham Highway near Ipswich, and A$3.3 billion for much-needed upgrades to the Bruce Highway. There is also A$390 millon for the Sunshine Coast rail line duplication, a project that has long been advocated by local Liberal National Party MPs.

Significantly, but not surprisingly, there is no federal funding for the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane, a longstanding bone of contention between the Labor state government and the federal Coalition. Instead, Morrison has pledged A$300 million for the LNP-controlled Brisbane City Council’s Metro transport project.

Regional Queensland hasn’t been ignored, with A$176 million promised for the long-
proposed construction of Rockhampton’s Rookwood Weir, dependent on equivalent
state funding. Federal Nationals MPs hope this will boost Coalition support in marginal central Queensland seats, where the popularity of One Nation looms large.


Northern Territory

Rolf Gerritsen, Professorial Research Fellow, Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University

The federal budget’s impact in the Northern Territory was determined before the territory’s own budget was released last week.

Two days before the NT budget came out, Treasurer Scott Morrison gave the territory a A$259 million top-up to compensate for its reduced GST revenue share. (A sweetener, perhaps, for approving fracking?).

Morrison also promised a A$550 million contribution to the territory’s indigenous housing budget. The Country Liberal Party candidate for the Labor seat of Lingiari also announced A$250 million to extend the indigenous Ranger program. And the NT received $280 million in roads funding, as well.

The NT has three problems in coming years. Its public service expenditure is overly large and top-heavy, meaning its cost is rising faster than inflation. Secondly, its population is growing relatively slowly compared with the rest of Australia. Finally, the territory’s Aboriginal population is decreasing as a proportion of the national Indigenous population, as more people in cities on the east coast have begun identifying as Indigenous in recent censuses.

These factors affect the territory’s relativities as calculated by the Commonwealth Grants Commission. The NT’s relativities have declined from 5.4% to 4.6% in the coming year. This means the NT received A$540 million less in its general purpose grant than if the 2010 relativities settings were still in place.

That will likely only get worse as the territory’s debt burden is expected to become intolerable within two decades.


South Australia

Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University

The twin focus of the 2018 budget was tax relief and a strong focus on support for older people.

This will have a mixed impact on South Australia. SA has a disproportionately older population compared with the rest of the country. In theory, the state should then benefit from a range of Scott Morrison’s measures to increase aged care places and support for in-home care.

The tax relief measures might also well offer some respite to residents, given concerns about cost-of-living prices.

Yet, the budget does little to directly tackle economic inequality in the state. SA has the highest youth unemployment in the nation. The lack of an increase to the state’s Newstart allowance will not help young people out of work. The treasurer also didn’t flag any specific measures to tackle other youth issues, including pathways into the housing market. Nor are there specific stimulus job measures, meaning any positive job growth effects might well take some time to kick in.

For Steven Marshall’s freshly minted Liberal government, however, there are opportunities in the budget, especially the 21st Century medical plan, which aligns well with his rejuvenation agenda to create medical precincts.

The government will also receive money to fund specific infrastructure measures, such as the North-South roads corridor. Whether this spending is proportionate to SA’s size and needs, however, remains unclear. The Marshall government will still likely need to be proactive to bring additional funding to the state for other infrastructure projects, such as solving traffic hot spots in Adelaide.


Tasmania

Maria Yanotti, Lecturer of Economics and Finance Tasmanian School of Business & Economics, University of Tasmania

Cuts to GST revenue and personal income tax will have the biggest impact for Tasmanians. Changes to the GST carve-up could deliver a A$29 million drop in state government revenue, which will restrict state expenditure as GST payments account for 40% of the state’s budget.

Conversely, the cut to personal income tax will mean more disposable income for many in Tasmania, where annual average earnings are A$53,357, but the median annual income is just A$29,796.

The measures to improve longer life choices for older Australians, as well as the fully funded roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, will also be welcomed in Tasmania. People aged 65 years and over represent almost 20% of the state’s population, the aged care residential services industry employs 2.8% of Tasmanians (relative to 2% of all Australians), and the health care and social assistance sector is the state’s biggest employer.

Investment in infrastructure, defence equipment, space industry, and research and development are arguably the way to go into the future. Most Tasmanians will support the Great Barrier Reef package and some will indirectly benefit from the Melbourne airport train link. However, the federal budget is again offering little that’s truly new for Tasmania, with most of the funding going to pre-existing commitments.

Investment in agricultural competitiveness and access to export markets, accompanied by cuts in business taxes and business support, will stimulate growth of businesses in an economy that receives a large share of Commonwealth income. Meanwhile, levelling the playing field for small business will benefit many emerging boutique businesses in the state.

The ConversationTasmania’s population, tourism industry, private businesses and economy have all been growing, which is always good for the incumbent government. Launceston and Hobart are progressing with “City Deals”, and the University of Tasmania is “transforming”. However, this progress has been accompanied by strong house price growth and housing pressure, while educational levels are still low.

Chris Salisbury, Research Associate, The University of Queensland; Anika Gauja, Associate Professor, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney; David Hayward, Professor of Public Policy and Acting Director, VCOSS-RMIT Future Social Service Institute, RMIT University; Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics, Murdoch University; Maria Yanotti, Lecturer of Economics and Finance Tasmanian School of Business & Economics, University of Tasmania; Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University, and Rolf Gerritsen, Professorial Research Fellow, Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Budget policy check: Treasurer Scott Morrison’s speech


Charis Palmer, The Conversation

In our budget policy checks we look at the government’s justifications for policies in the budget and measure them against the evidence.

In this piece we look at Treasurer Scott Morrison’s speech.


Treasurer Scott Morrison has laid out his budget plan to further strengthen Australia’s economy, with a focus on constraining both spending and taxing.

As a Government we have put constraints on how much we spend and how much we tax, to grow our economy and responsibly repair the budget.

Real expenditure growth remains below 2%, the most restrained of any government in more than 50 years… We are also keeping taxes under our policy speed limit of 23.9% of GDP set out in our fiscal strategy.

Higher taxes to chase higher spending never ends well. Australians always end up paying for it one way or another.

Economist and tax expert John Freebairn says capping tax revenue is an arbitrary measure that overlooks the many potential reforms to the tax system that are revenue-neutral.

And, says Freebairn, the wide range in tax-to-GDP ratios around the world – from the United States at 25.9% to Denmark at 49.6% – shows that there is no one answer.

Identifying the right level to tax is obviously contentious, but an evidence-based approach would ensure that tax is at a point where the benefit to society of additional government spending no longer exceeds the distortion cost of raising the extra tax.

Tax relief is the biggest budget expense, costing the government A$13.4 billion over the forward estimates. This includes an immediate (albeit small) tax offset for all taxpayers, and for low- to middle-income earners, an increase in the upper threshold for three tax brackets.

Everyone pays the price of higher taxes. It weakens the economy and costs jobs.

Economist Saul Eslake says households have been spending less in the last five years because they have been paying more of their income in taxes.

And, he says, targeted personal income tax cuts, not funded by bigger deficits, could reduce the squeeze on households and make up for persistent low wages. The move will likely provide much more of a boost to the Australian economy than cutting company income tax.

Meanwhile, households are being promised good news about their electricity bills.

The National Energy Security Board estimates annual power bills will fall by A$400 on average for every Australian household from 2020, following the introduction of our national energy guarantee.

The government continues to argue the case for a conservative emissions reduction and renewable energy targets to prevent against higher electricity prices.

We will maintain our responsible and achievable emissions reduction target at 26-28%, and not the 45% demanded by the Opposition. That would only push electricity prices up.

And we will not adopt the 50% renewable energy target demanded by the Opposition that will also only put electricity prices up.

All energy sources and technologies should support themselves without taxpayer subsidies. The current subsidy scheme will be phased out from 2020.

Energy experts say increasing levels of renewable energy generation are just one of the many factors affecting retail electricity prices. Other factors include network costs, gas prices, changes in supply and demand dynamics and market competition issues.

Energy researcher Dylan McConnell says the assertion that high electricity prices are the consequence of renewable energy policies is incorrect.

The fifth pillar of Morrison’s budget plan is “ensuring that the government lives within its means”.

This is code for a continued crackdown on welfare cheats, but also includes ratcheting back research and development tax incentives, squeezing more tax out of multinationals, and finding a way to get revenue from the black economy.

A stronger economy keeps spending under control by getting Australians off welfare and into work. After record jobs growth, the proportion of working age Australians now dependent on welfare has fallen to 15.1% – the lowest level in over 25 years.

Public policy Professor Peter Whiteford says to understand changes in welfare spending we also need to factor in changes in the context in which welfare dollars are spent. For example, population growth, the impact of an ageing population and changes in government policies and welfare categories, will all influence this.

The ConversationWhiteford says a better way to look at it is to compare spending over time, expressed as a percentage of GDP.

Charis Palmer, Deputy Editor/Chief of Staff, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.